New Twists and Turns in HBO Hacking Scandal

September 15, 2017

These days, it's harder to find someone who isn't a fan of "Game of Thrones" than it is to find those who watch the HBO fantasy drama series with rapt attention on a weekly basis. The show debuted in 2011 to high critical acclaim and a reasonably sized audience but exploded into a cultural juggernaut not too long after, and now occupies a prime position as HBO's flagship program.

As a result, when episodes of the show's latest season began surfacing online several days in advance of their air date, it became breaking news in multiple outlets. Fervor only intensified when it became clear the leaks might be connected to the actions of a group of hackers.

As it was eventually revealed, the full truth was somewhat more complicated: the early episode leaks stemmed from human error rather than malicious intent, but they occurred both before and after actual hackers broke into HBO's system and released script files from "Thrones," as well as unaired episodes of other upcoming series, while committing various other acts of online mischief. The full impact of the incident hasn't yet been measured, but it should nonetheless exemplify to consumers that even the biggest brands are only as secure as their identity and fraud protection tools.

Hacks and leaks occur close together

It was reported that HBO initially discovered it had been hacked at the beginning of August, and confirmed as much to media outlets. Approximately one week later, on Aug. 7, a collection of "Thrones" scripts, unreleased episodes of "Curb Your Enthusiasm" - HBO's long-dormant comedy created by and starring Larry David of "Seinfeld" fame - and several "Ballers" episodes hit the internet all at once. Not long after, the network stated that a hacker group had contacted them and was demanding payment or threatening further leaks. Per the cyber attackers' claims, they'd previously hit 16 other organizations with ransomware.

Just before the hackers' formal announcement of their presence, Variety pointed out that the season's fourth episode hit the internet about four days before its broadcast premiere of Aug. 6 because of a mix-up with HBO distribution partner Sky India. In the weeks that followed, the episode leak problem compounded itself, but not solely due to further hacks: Aug. 15 marked the accidental early release of "Thrones's" sixth episode, this time due to accidental early release by the premium cable network's European affiliates.

The latest assault on HBO's servers came the evening of Aug. 16, when hackers perpetrated an act of identity theft on the channel's Facebook and Twitter accounts. These cyberattackers did little more than announce their presence - identifying themselves as part of the OurMine hacking collective - with tweets and posts. HBO regained control of its channels soon after the intrusion, and OurMine made no further statements of monetary or material demand, making it likely that their only goal was showing off.

Long-term implications of attack remain unclear

The hackers responsible for the initial leak of episodes and scripts reportedly demanded $6 million in Bitcoin. While paying the ransom wouldn't be an optimal outcome for HBO either in the realm of public opinion or for its profits, it certainly wouldn't cripple the network's general financial well-being. As far as brand impact is concerned, Variety noted that it hasn't significantly affected the network.

As an average "Game of Thrones" fan and computer user, you may not have the layers of protection used by a major cable network, and you likely have much more to lose if you are compromised. You may not know the warning signs of identity theft or infiltration until it is much too late. That's where Identity Guard can lend a hand, helping you build a customized protection plan to keep your personal data safer than HBO's scripts.

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